Father accused of abducting daughter, leaving her in The Philippines


October 19, 2013

Source: thestarphoenix.com

A Saskatoon man accused of abducting his Brazilian toddler daughter from Ukraine in July will return to court Tuesday for a bail hearing. Alexander Fiodor Levine, 47, is charged with parental abduction between July 10, 2013 and Oct 11, 2013.

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The child was found on the weekend, safe and healthy, in the Philippines, after Levine was arrested and charged in Saskatoon on Oct. 11, said Saskatoon police spokeswoman Kelsie Fraser.

The child was in the care of Philippine child welfare authorities as of Tuesday.

Fraser said it’s not yet clear why Levine allegedly took the child to the Philippines, or who he left her with in that country.

“I don’t believe he had a connection to the Philippines,” Fraser said.

Lavine, who lives in Saskatoon, is the father of the two-year-old girl who was born in Brazil to her Brazilian mother, Oziene Barbosa. The child never lived in Canada, Fraser said.

This summer, Levine and Barbosa travelled from Brazil to Ukraine. Barbosa reported the abduction to Ukrainian authorities in July, Fraser said.

Brazilian authorities were also notified. They contacted Saskatchewan Justice and the Saskatoon Police Service in August.

Numerous law enforcement and government agencies, in Canada and abroad, joined the investigation, including the SPS sex crimes and child abuse unit, the major crimes unit, forensic identification unit and tech crimes units, along with the RCMP National Missing Children Operations, the Canada Border Services Agency, Saskatchewan Justice and officials in the Philippines and Brazil.

Kidnapped_To_Philippines

Levine was arrested Friday in Saskatoon and charged with one count of parental abduction of a child with intent to deprive her lawful parent of the possession of the child.

Canada Border Services helped by tracking Levine’s passport to the Philippines, where authorities then became involved, Fraser said.

On Tuesday, Levine made a brief appearance, via video link, in Saskatoon provincial court, where he was remanded until Tuesday.

 

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My partner abducted my child: the parents left behind


September 23 September 2013

Source: Theguardian.com

Last year alone, more than 500 children were abducted from the UK by one of their parents. We speak to some of the mothers and fathers left behind

Louise Monaghan with daughter May in Cyprus

 

Louise Monaghan with her daughter, May, in Cyprus: ‘We’ll change our names, move. If you want to get lost, you can.’ Photograph: Eirini Vourloumis for the Guardian

When Louise Monaghan rang her former husband’s phone, her worst fears were confirmed: it went straight to an international ring tone. He had fled the country with their six-year-old daughter, May. The police in Cyprus, where Louise lived, didn’t seem overly interested; it was just another domestic that would sort itself out. Nor did the government back home in Ireland: no, they couldn’t arrange an emergency passport for May without her father’s signature. Louise protested that this was the man who had absconded with her daughter. Sorry, she was told, rules are rules.

She had been divorced from Mostafa for less than a year. During their seven-year relationship, he regularly beat her; on one occasion, when he punched her unconscious, he thought he had killed her. Eventually, she found the courage to press charges, and then begged the judge for leniency; Mostafa had told her he would have her and May killed if he went to prison. He was given a suspended sentence, and his access to May continued, three days a week, three hours a day. Louise says May hated her time with him. She had panic attacks and developed trichotillomania, a compulsion to pull out your own hair. “She had a big bald spot.”

After they divorced, he stalked Louise, hiding in bushes beneath her apartment, following her in his car, terrifying her. She warned her daughter as gently as she could. She never used the word kidnap, nor did she suggest that May’s father was a bad man, but she did say there was one thing her father wasn’t allowed to do. “I told her time and time again, if your father ever takes you to an airport or a ferry, please scream and shout and go to the nearest adult and say, can you please call my mama? She knew my number off by heart. We practised it all the time. So when he took her, I thought, please God, do what I said.”

The phone continued to ring out. Eventually, Mostafa answered and calmly told her they were about to cross the border into war-torn Syria, where he was from. “I said, ‘Do you have May?’ and he said, ‘Of course I have May. We’re going to live in Syria.’ I said, ‘Can I speak to her?’ When she came on the phone, she was so distraught I couldn’t understand a word she was saying. I said, ‘May, speak slowly, where have you been?’ And she said, ‘In a big shopping mall, Mummy.’ I said, ‘May, were there planes there?’ And she started crying and saying, ‘Yes, Mama.'”

The story that followed is the stuff of thrillers. Indeed, Louise’s book,Stolen: Escape From Syria, is being made into a film. But there is nothing thrilling about the way she recounts it. She crossed a heavily guarded Syrian border, fooled Mostafa into thinking she still loved him, was beaten, starved and held captive by him, betrayed by the people-smugglers she had paid to rescue them, and then escaped with her daughter across the mountains into Lebanon through bomb attacks and sniper fire.

Two years on, Louise is back living in Cyprus. May is at school and life is returning to a kind of normality. We meet in Dublin, at her sister Mandy’s home. May is a pretty eight-year-old with long, dark hair and an uncertain smile. I look at her and find it hard to comprehend what she has been through. Perhaps the only giveaway is her silence.

Louise is undergoing intense psychotherapy. She talks about the sexual abuse she suffered as a child, how introverted she became, the death of her mother in a car crash, her first marriage to a man who was more friend than lover. She is trying to put things into context, she says, explaining how she ended up with a man like Mostafa.

In her late 20s, she left Ireland for Cyprus and became a successful travel sales consultant, before setting up a hair salon. She drove two cars, had a good income and a great circle of friends. Then she met Mostafa. “I don’t like to say his name,” she says quietly. She seems embarrassed, ashamed even, that she fell in love with him.

“He was a good-looking guy, let’s be honest about it,” Mandy says as her sister struggles. “He came over from Cyprus to Ireland, to the local pub, and you should have seen the carry-on from my friends.”

“Even after the kidnapping, friends said to me, ‘It’s such a shame, because he was a gorgeous-looking man,'” Louise says.

From the start Mostafa was controlling, but she told herself she was lucky to have a man who cared for her so passionately. Yes, she was aware that they came from very different cultures – she was Irish Catholic, he was Syrian Sunni Muslim – but that wasn’t going to get in the way of love. “Then I married him and I became his property.”

After the abduction, Mandy flew to Cyprus to be with Louise and work out a rescue plan. They flew to southern Turkey and drove to Hatay, a province bordering Syria, where Louise put on her hijab and left Mandy. On 12 September 2011, five days after Mostafa had abducted May, she walked into Syria, passing thousands of people fleeing in the opposite direction. When Louise was reunited with May, she learned her daughter had been beaten on to the plane. “On her arms, her thighs. She still had bruises where he grabbed her arms.”

Louise and May spent five weeks in Syria. Often, Mostafa would leave her locked in a dark room and take May with him. “I presume it was to see his parents. I think he did it to torture me, to show me he was the boss. I thought I’d never see her again.”

She lost a stone. Mandy says that when they came back to Ireland, May looked even worse than her mother. “She had these terrible black rings under her eyes.” And now? “She doesn’t like talking about it. She very rarely mentions it. She might twitch at something.” Despite this, Louise says May told her therapist she still loves her father.

“You know what?” Mandy says, out of nowhere. “I haven’t read the book.” She’s happily buttering a piece of toast in the kitchen, and the next second is in floods of tears. “It’s just too horrific. I hate to think they went through all that.” Now Louise is crying, too.

A month after Louise and May returned home, Mostafa was apprehended trying to escape Syria over the Turkish border. He was jailed for two weeks and was due to be extradited to Cyprus on charges of abduction. But Syria was mid-collapse, and he was let go. There is currently an international warrant for his arrest.

It is almost impossible to get accurate statistics on parental child abduction. Last year, Foreign and Commonwealth Office statisticsrevealed that there had been an 88% increase in the number of parental child abduction cases it had dealt with in less than a decade – from 272 in 2003/4 to 512 in 2011/12. These figures almost certainly understate the problem because they are based only on official police investigations. Although the common perception is that more men than women abduct children, in 2011 Reunite, a charity that supports victims of international parental child abduction, found that 70% of parental abductions in the UK were by women, most of whom had followed their partner to the UK and returned home when the relationship soured.

Neil Winnington

 

Neil Winnington: ‘All I can do is leave a trail for her online – films, songs, blogs, poems – and hope she follows it.’ Photograph: Shaw + Shaw for the Guardian

If you look on Myspace, there is a beautiful video of a red-haired two-year-old at the seaside, eating ice-cream, bouncing on a trampoline, making sandcastles with her father. The film was made in May 2008, two months before Neil Winnington’s daughter Emily was taken to Russia by her mother. He was assured they would return to Wrexham after the holiday, but he didn’t believe her. After all, Neil claims, she had previously threatened to take Emily back to Russia for good, saying that if he didn’t give her half his earnings, she would never allow him to visit. “She had said she’d go to the Russian courts and have my name removed from the birth certificate. Emily wouldn’t even know she had a British father.”

Neil doesn’t have a clue what Emily looks like today, or where she’s living: “25 September is five years to the day since I saw her.” He assumes she wouldn’t recognise him. All he can do, he says, is leave a trail for her online, in the form of films, songs, blogs, poems and photos, and hope that one days she follows it.

As with most cases of abduction, Neil’s story is one-sided. His former wife (he doesn’t say her name; she is “Emily’s mother”) is unavailable for comment because she has disappeared; he assumes they are both still in Russia, but doesn’t know. The British government hasn’t been much help either, he says: “Three years ago, the Christmas and birthday presents all started coming back with ‘incorrect address’ marked on them. When the cutbacks started to bite at the Foreign Office, any attempt to contact Emily was stopped. When they did send somebody for a consular visit, Emily’s mum refused to let them even take photographs for me.”

Although Russia has just signed up to the 1996 Hague convention, which states that abducted children should be returned to their habitual country of residence, it will consider only retrospective cases that occurred within the previous year. “So the estimated 150 children, including Emily, who were abducted to Russia prior to that will get no help,” Neil says. He doesn’t know who, or where, to turn to now.

Neil says it’s ironic, really. He has travelled all over the world as a TV producer, but met Emily’s mother in Birkenhead, just a few miles from his parents’ home. She returned to Russia to give birth to Emily, and that’s when things started to go wrong. “I think she had postnatal depression and her mother started sowing seeds of doubt.” The marriage fell apart when he discovered she had been having an affair.

After Emily was taken, Neil stopped working. He got into £20,000-worth of debt, lost his home and car, and stopped going out. “I had a complete nervous breakdown. To be honest, I’ve just learned to control it. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it. Even if Emily came back tomorrow… I’ve spoken to other parents: they expect their children to be snatched again. It never, ever leaves you.” His speech is broken. “I was a recluse for two years. I couldn’t face seeing children. If a child cries – even to this day, in a supermarket – it brings me to tears.”

Like the other parents I speak to, Neil knows his abduction statistics by heart. “In 2011, Reunite received calls about 512 different cases, involving 700-plus children. And the numbers are rising each year. It was 300 the year Emily was abducted.”

Why is the number rising? “If I’m blunt about it, the growing media and political antipathy towards foreigners is driving a lot of people apart. It gave Emily’s mother ammunition to say they weren’t wanted here.” Was there any truth in that? “There are always people who’ll look for a reason.”

He says he is in a slightly better state now. He has just started a new job, is campaigning for Reunite, and has convinced himself that one day Emily will turn up on his doorstep.

Has he been in a relationship? “I’m staying single for the rest of my life,” he says forcefully. “It would be a betrayal of Emily. If she came back and found me with another family, I don’t think I could forgive myself.” But he could have another family and still love her? “No, because she is what I always wanted. If I’d had another family, it would have meant that I’d stopped fighting.”

Catherine Meyer

 

Catherine Meyer: ‘My boys are always small in my dreams. They’re with me and either taken away or in danger.’ Photograph: Lydia Goldblatt for the Guardian

On the surface, Catherine Meyer says life couldn’t be better. She is married to a wonderful man (Christopher Meyer, the former ambassador to Germany and Washington), she has two grown-up boys of whom she is hugely proud and a successful career in the City behind her – and yet the past still haunts her.

It is 19 years since her two sons, Alexander and Constantin, then nine and seven, were taken by her former husband. Strictly speaking, they were not abducted: they were wrongfully retained. The boys had gone to visit their father in Germany, and he refused to let them return.

We meet at Catherine’s beautiful London town house, which is currently being overhauled; the one room that is operational serves as the office from which she runs Pact, a charity she set up to help victims of abduction. Like Louise Monaghan, she has written a book about her experience, called They Are My Children, Too. Left-behind parents often feel the need to chronicle their experience, partly for themselves and partly in the hope that their children will be able to make sense of it one day.

A slight, elegant woman, Catherine looks both much younger, and occasionally older, than her 60 years. She is in tears before her first sentence is out. Half-French, half-Russian, she grew up largely in Britain, and spent time in America and Africa. She was 29 and one of only three women working on London’s Stock Exchange when she went on a road trip to visit her sister in the south of France. At a service station, a man smiled at her. Then she saw him at another service station, and it turned out they were visiting the same place. “He was very good-looking, German, blond, blue eyes. He was a doctor, did something useful. I thought, wow!”

They moved to London and married. When he became homesick, she agreed to move to Germany for two years. They lived with his mother in the small town of Verden, near Bremen. Two years became seven, and Catherine decided she’d had enough. She returned to London in 1993, where she was awarded custody of the boys; the agreement was that they would spend the school holidays with their father, which is how it worked out, until the following year, when she received a 21-page letter from him. “He said, ‘It’s not me, it’s the children, they are begging to stay with me. I’m not doing this against you, I’m doing this to be nice to the children.’ He was already preparing his legal case. And the whole world crashes.”

As with Louise, every date is imprinted on Catherine’s mind. “I said, ‘If you don’t send them back on 28 August, I will consider this wrongful retention under article 3 of the Hague convention.'” Alexander and Constantin were made wards of court, and an order was made for them to return to the UK; but the local German court successfully argued that the children were victims of racism in Britain, and that the “children have decisively opposed such return”. Over the next 10 years, Catherine saw her children half a dozen times, for a few hours on each occasion; in all, she says, she spent 24 hours with them. She dedicated her life to their return. She spent more than £200,000 on lawyers, and lost everything. She explored every avenue, analysed 22 other cases of abduction in Germany, examined every inconsistency in the legal arguments. In 1997, four years after losing her children, she lobbied Christopher Meyer, then ambassador to Germany, for help. “He always says, ‘This poor woman came in to try to get some help, and I knew I couldn’t help her. So I did the second best thing and married her.'” She smiles.

She believes the boys became convinced that she had abandoned them. One day she took a plane to Germany and waited outside their school. When they saw her, they ran in the opposite direction and got into a car. “The first time I saw Alexander, at the second court hearing, he greeted me by hitting me.” She aims a punch at her own stomach to illustrate.

How did this change her? “I lost my job and by now I was weighing 45 kilos. I wasn’t eating and I couldn’t sleep because my hip bones were so painful, sticking out.” She looks into her coffee, then directly at me. “I used to be quite amusing, actually, when I was young. Now I cannot stay still – I have to be busy. That’s a sign I see in a lot of parents. They become workaholics, or depressives. I have two people who committed suicide, and one ended up in the loony bin. You can feel sorry for yourself and go deeper and deeper into yourself. Or you can work and work.”

The most painful loss, she says, was physical. “Touching them. Feeling them. I constantly had nightmares. Still have them. They are always small in dreams, they’re with me in London, and they’re either being taken away or they’re in danger.”

How did she win her case? She didn’t, she says: “There was an angel.” A man living near her boys in Germany heard her story and wrote to her. He got in touch with Alexander, told him his mother still loved him and was desperate to see him. He passed on her address. Aged 19, Alexander visited his mother in London for the first time in 10 years. Constantin followed soon after. “I was incredibly nervous. How will they react? What will they think of me? Shall I speak French, shall I speak English? We sat on the tube, looking at each other rather than saying anything.”

Alexander is now 28 and a maths PhD student in Berlin. Constantin is 26 and studying to be a doctor in Hamburg. They visit regularly. Do the boys consider they were abducted? “We don’t talk about this… Possibly not. They are boys, and boys tend to look forward rather than back.” Does she think they will want to talk about it? “Yes. With Alexander it has come up. We’ve had some conversations and he’s said he doesn’t really want to go there, but maybe one day he will.”

Alexander was nine when he was taken, just old enough for his mother to start to see who he might grow into. Constantin was still a baby in her eyes. “He was a gorgeous little blond boy when he left, and suddenly he’s a young man with hair on his arms. It’s difficult. You’ve missed 10 years of your child growing up, very formative years. We’re rebuilding.”

She attributes the dramatic increase in the number of parental abductions to an increase in international marriages, a greater number of divorces and the fact that today’s family courts are less clear cut when it comes to child custody; in the past, it was assumed they would stay with their mother. The biggest problem, she says, is lawyers with a financial interest in prolonging divorce conflict, and parents who think of their children as possessions. “The trouble is, parents think they have rights to their children. You produce them, they didn’t ask to be in the world, the only thing you do have is responsibility to raise them properly and give them the love they need.”

I ask if she is capable of feeling joy these days. “Seeing my children is wonderful. Christopher says my face lights up when I see them.” She pauses. “I used to say I’d like to just drill a hole in my head and take some of this stuff out, this anxiety, this hyperness.” She still feels that? “Oh, yes.”

Rachel Neustadt

 

Rachel Neustadt: ‘They don’t remember English any more. My son couldn’t remember how to say goodnight.’ Photograph: Lydia Goldblatt for the Guardian

Rachel Neustadt says she’s lucky. Then again, luck is relative. Nine months ago, her ex-husband abducted her two oldest boys, Daniel Jakob, seven, and Jonathan, five. We meet in early September, a few days before she is due to fly to Russia to fight in court for their return.

Six months after the boys were taken, in June 2013, Russia signed up to the 1996 Hague convention. The earlier 1980 convention had ruled that countries had to individually ratify with each other for a child to be returned to the country from which they were taken, but the 1996 model states that countries need only to have signed up for it to be applied. The old convention would not have helped Rachel; the new one should see her children return. Hers will be a test case, the first to use the new legislation for an abduction from the UK to Russia.

Rachel and Ilya met at a wedding in Vienna. They had much in common: both were orthodox Jews, with Belarusian family; both had been brought up in a number of countries and were economists. He was studying for a PhD, she was working for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. They married, had two boys and raised them bilingual, speaking English (she is American) and Russian. They married in Germany, lived in Switzerland, then moved to England. Over time, she says, Ilya became unreasonable and abusive. In what way? “Almost every way.”

In 2011, after eight years of marriage, Rachel decided enough was enough. She was pregnant with their third child when she filed for divorce. She says she tried to make the split as amicable as possible. Legally, she didn’t have to allow him to take the boys on holiday, but she wanted to normalise the relationship. He suggested taking the boys to see his brother in Russia. She knows that should have rung an alarm bell: he had not been back to Russia for two decades. He then suggested getting the boys a Russian passport because it was cheaper than a visa, and that meant they would be able to visit their cousins every year. “I went to the embassy and signed all the papers to get them Russian passports.” She shakes her head in disbelief. She gave the trip her blessing, and the boys never came back.

This is the most common circumstance in which children are abducted by a parent, during contact time. Astonishingly, Rachel says, if the left-behind parent has given the other parent permission to take a child on holiday, it is not even a crime; “wrongful retention” is a civil offence. As with most male abductors, Ilya has been helped by his mother; she has moved from Germany to Russia to help bring up the boys.

Why did he take them? “He said they’re his kids, he brought them to England, he can take them whenever he wants.”

He didn’t see the boys as their children? “Well, he’s always seen them as his possessions. He doesn’t really see them as humans with rights and feelings. He said we live in Russia now, and we don’t need anything else. The kids don’t need a mother, they don’t need you. I’m their mother and their father. He’s tried to coax me into bringing our third son to Russia to see his brothers, so he can abduct him, too.”

At first, Rachel says, Ilya allowed her a weekly phone call, but he would keep her waiting for hours, and then the calls tailed off. If she said anything personal or loving to the boys, the line would go dead. The last time she spoke to them, she felt they were no longer used to regular conversation. “They’ve lost a lot of their ability to communicate. They don’t remember English any more. Their father said to Jonathan, ‘Say goodnight to your mum in English’ and he couldn’t even remember how to say the words.”

The walls of her north London home are covered with mementoes of the boys – a crayoned drawing with the words “I like crackers” by Jonathan, pictures of the union and Israeli flags, a certificate Daniel Jakob won for a spelling competition, photographs of them dressed up as sword-wielding Normans.

Rachel is composed until I ask what such an experience does to a parent. She swallows between half-sentences and takes deep breaths. “Most mothers, when they put their kids to bed and they see them sleeping, they hover for a moment. Before you walk out of the room for the night, you tend to wait, because you know you’re going to miss them until morning. So it’s that feeling multiplied by 24 hours a day. I’m just waiting…” She is barely audible now. “It’s horrific.” Every parent I meet cries in the same way: mid-conversation, without warning, silently, uncontrollably.

The days are worse than the nights, Rachel says. “That’s when you’re constantly cleaning chins and tying shoes and doing homework. All the stuff you do every second with kids.” But she says the overwhelming feeling is not one of missing the boys: it is of panic that they might be damaged, and horror that she has failed to protect them.

She sleeps four hours a night, if she’s lucky, between 3am and 7am. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable calling it a night when I know if I did a couple more things I might be more successful in bringing them home.” How does she get through the days? “I’m very busy working for them. I don’t have much time. I try not to distract myself with emotions, because I have a job to do. Paperwork to file, phone calls to make. It is a full-time job. If people ask me, I say I’m a full-time student of international abduction law.” She allows herself a rare smile.

Has this changed her as a person? “Yes. In many ways, actually. My ex was unreasonable in so many ways, and I thought that if I just kept being reasonable, he’d come round. Now I think what I did was naive. I guess, in an abusive relationship, it’s called enabling behaviour. Ultimately, I realised it’s up to me to defend the interests of the family and not allow someone like him to destroy us.”

I ask if I can see the boys’ bedroom. “Sure,” she says. Her mother, who has come over from America to support her, is in there playing with her baby son, Meyer, and a toy bus. There is a double bed and a single bed. Rachel points to the double. “Daniel Jakob likes this bed because he rolls about in his sleep.”

“Yes, he does!’ his grandma says, laughing.

What have the past nine months been like for her, the boys’ grandmother? Her face collapses and tears roll down her cheeks; she ushers my tape recorder away.

We play with the bus, Rachel sings London Bridge to Meyer and calm is restored. Well, I say, hopefully the boys will be back soon. Rachel’s mother blinks back her tears. “They will be… they will be!” she says.

Back in Dublin, Louise Monaghan says that, while it is wonderful to have May back, the family are not yet at peace. After their escape, Mostafa rang her sister Mandy and promised he would track down Louise and May.

“Even now, not knowing where he is, you’re still living in danger, still sleeping with one eye open,” Mandy says.

Where do they think he is?

Mandy: “Hopefully he’s died. I know that’s not nice.”

Louise: “In my heart, I think he got out. He has family who love him in Dubai and Qatar.”

How does she feel when Mandy says she hopes he’s dead? “We’ve had that discussion. I have mixed feelings. My overriding feeling is I want peace. When I heard that he had been arrested and was being flown back to Cyprus, my biggest fear was that, if he was languishing in a Cypriot prison, I would have to get out of here because he would organise for me to be killed. I have no doubt about that.”

The family are planning a fresh start. Louise and May do not believe they are safe in Cyprus, nor Mandy and her family in Ireland. They will move together to a new country, as yet undecided. “New identity,” Louise says. “Change our appearance, change our names, move somewhere else, whatever. If you want to get lost, you can get lost.”

Just before going to press, I receive an email from Rachel Neustadt in Russia. While Ilya has argued in court that the boys are frightened of London and do not want to live with their mother, the court has ruled that they should be returned to the UK: a landmark decision. Ilya has 15 days to appeal. Rachel’s relief is palpable, as is her fear. “I wish I could hold my sons in my arms right now, but it is still unclear how to gain access to them. Today is Daniel Jakob’s half-birthday – he’s seven and a half. We have not reached the end of this nightmare, but today’s decision was crucial. I have no idea, nor do I want to imagine, how much longer this might take. I suspect we have a difficult road ahead of us.”

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International parental child abductions rise with global migration


February 26, 2013

Source: TheStar.com

As cross-border relationships become more common, so do cases involving kids seized and taken to another country. Left-behind parents want changes to the law.
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Stephen Watkins and sons, Alexander and Christopher. Police believe the boys are in Poland.

When a grandfather was found guilty last year of helping his daughter abduct her two boys to Poland, history was made. It was Canada’s first criminal conviction involving international child abduction by a parent.

Outside the Newmarket court where 78-year-old Tadeusz Ustaszewski’s sentencing was taking place, a group of Canadian parents held up signs and photos of their missing children, hoping to draw public attention to the issue of cross-border child abductions by estranged spouses.

Frustrated by legal bureaucracy, countries indifferent to Canadian court orders, and what they say is scant support from the Canadian government, left-behind parents have launched their own advocacy group. They plan to campaign for changes in the law to better detect and prevent child abduction.

“People paint it as a custody matter, but really, these countries have signed the international treaties and do not comply with these treaties.”

STEPHEN WATKINS – FOUNDING MEMBER OF ICHAPEAU

So far, the group involves 13 families and 16 “lost” children. It is part of a growing movement in North America for stronger enforcement of the Hague Child Abduction Convention — a 32-year-old international treaty that deals with the return of children abducted by a non-custodial parent and transferred from one country to another.

“The fact is you have this melting pot of different nationalities. You date people of different nationalities, get married, have children — and they decide to go home,” said Stephen Watkins, a founding member of iCHAPEAU (International Child Harbouring & Abduction Prevention Enforcement Act Under-law).

“People paint it as a custody matter, but really, these countries have signed the international treaties and do not comply with these treaties.”

With the ease of global travel and explosion of Internet romances, the world has become smaller. Romantic relationships — and breakups — that span national borders have become more common.

These relationship breakdowns, often nasty for adults in the same locale, can be even more complicated when children and multiple government jurisdictions are involved.

A 2012 study by Nigel Lowe and Victoria Stephens at the Cardiff Law School in the United Kingdom found that the global number of Hague Convention applications to retrieve an abducted child had risen by 45 per cent since 2003.

According to a U.S. State Department report, the number of new international parental child abduction cases in the United States alone has doubled since 2006, from 642 to 1,135, with the majority of cases involving children taken to one of the convention’s 89 signatory countries.

But the child return rate is far from satisfactory. In 2009, the report said, only 436 children abducted to or wrongfully retained in other countries were returned to the U.S. Of these children, 324, or 74 per cent, were from a convention country.

happy-children

“The goal of the convention is to establish clearly defined procedures for the prompt return of children . . . to provide an effective deterrent to parents who contemplate abducting their children,” said the Report on Compliance with the Hague Convention.

“Unfortunately, current trends reflect a steady increase in the number of international parental child abduction cases and highlight the urgency of redoubling efforts to promote compliance with convention obligation and encourage additional nations to join it.”

A left-behind parent can apply through what’s known as the central authority of his or her country to have a wrongfully removed child returned to the place of “habitual residence.”

The parent must provide details of the case in the Hague Convention application, which will then be sent by the central authority to the foreign state to which the child was taken.

Once the application is received, the court in the receiving country must determine if the conditions set out for the child’s return are met and if any exceptions to the return of the child exist.

Canada does not maintain national statistics on the number of Hague Convention applications and number of child returns to the country, said Carole Saindon, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, which oversees the central authority administration in Canada.

“It is important to note that a decision by a court not to order the return of a child does not mean that the convention is not being properly applied in that state,” Saindon said in an email.

“While a left-behind parent may not agree with the child leaving Canada, the situation does not necessarily constitute a wrongful removal or retention for the purposes of the Hague Convention.”

In instances where a left-behind parent is dissatisfied with the result, she said, the parent or the Canadian central authority can raise their concerns with the foreign central authority and attempt to resolve any issues.

However, “where a left-behind parent disagrees with the decision of a foreign court not to return his or her child, he or she needs to evaluate the matter in consultation with private legal counsel,” Saindon said.

The issue of international child abduction is not new, but it received global attention in 2008 with the case of Sean Goldman, the child at the centre of an international legal battle between his American father, David Goldman, and the family of his deceased Brazilian ex-wife, Bruna Bianchi Carneiro Ribeiro.

After winning his son back in 2009 with a favourable decision by the Brazilian Supreme Court, Sean’s father and his supporters, in the same year, established the Bring Sean Home Foundation, run by volunteers for the campaign to return internationally abducted children.

Most significantly, the foundation has been pushing for the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction, Prevention and Return Act (HR1940) — an inspiration for Watkins, whose sons, Christopher and Alexander, were taken to Poland in 2009 by their mother, Ustaszewski’s daughter, Edyta.

“The biggest reason the convention is largely inefficient is there are no penalties for non-compliance. There are no repercussions for not complying,” said Mark DeAngelis, the foundation’s executive director.

The bill, expected to be introduced to the U.S. Congress in 2013, proposes establishing an Office on International Child Abductions to promote measures to prevent abductions from the U.S., advocate for abducted children and assist left-behind parents in resolving their cases.

Watkins, of iCHAPEAU, said Canada should adopt a similar approach and penalize convention non-compliant nations by delaying or cancelling official visits and scientific and cultural exchanges; withdrawing Canadian development assistance; and restricting travel by their nationals.

“We need to impose sanctions against non-compliant countries,” said Watkins, adding that educating Canadian officials in child welfare and courts to flag at-risk cases is also key to abduction prevention.

Jeffery Morehouse of Bring Abducted Children Home, an advocacy group for American left-behind parents, agrees.

“We need to have an open public discussion of what’s going on,” he said from Washington. “We must step up and be vocal. Enough is enough. We are not going to condone the trafficking of children to a foreign country without recourse.”

More: The tales of four left-behind Canadian parents

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Parental abduction : Children in a Legal Vacuum: International Child Abduction


Source: Huffington Post / Natasha Kuilak Mellersh

Many of us take on work or studies in a foreign country, and some of us end up having a family with someone of a different nationality. All great for international understanding? Well usually. But if the relationship breaks down, this type of globally mobile lifestyle brings new challenges for the family courts. Where do you file for a divorce? What about custody and visitation? What if the custody battle turns acrimonious?

With the increase in transnational marriages, international parental child abduction has become a serious problem that affects both individual states and the international community.  Parents who feel unfairly treated by the family courts may  “forum shop” taking the kids into a new legal jurisdiction that will be more likely to rule in their favour, thus sparking a re-run of their custody case. The Hague Convention on International Child Abduction is designed specifically to prevent this border-hopping between nations; signatory countries agree to accept decisions already made in another jurisdiction and to promptly return abducted children to their place of habitual residence.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child also obliges states to ensure that national borders are not used to prevent children from having contact with their family. Signatory states commit to ensuring the continuity of a child’s life when a substantial part of it resides in another country.

Yet it is one thing to accept that is in the child’s best interests to maintain contact with their family and promptly return home; it is another to actually carry this out.

While international legal conventions are designed to regulate cross-border disputes and harmonise legal proceedings, these are not always enforced with appropriate urgency and are frequently evaded or blatantly disregarded. Although parental abduction has been defined as amounting to child abuse, the rights of the child are sadly often ignored in international abduction cases, with nationalistic posturing taking precedence.

Families living abroad are away from the steadying influences of friends and extended family, and may also slip through society’s safety nets of schools, doctors, social workers and counsellors. Who is going to follow up on a family that has moved abroad? Who will bother to find out the background of a family newly arrived in a country? If you don’t speak the language, how can you seek advice and counselling? National laws governing family issues must be adapted to the changing international culture and to reflect the ease of international travel and the transnational nature of many modern families.

US-Italy-Russia

The recent case of the Grin/McIlwrath children highlights the numerous failings of the Russian authorities to work together with their Italian counterparts to protect the children involved. Grin, a Russian-born US citizen who was living in Italy, abducted her four children from their American custodial father in Florence. She travelled to Russia with the children despite Italian court rulings which removed her custody rights and indicated that the children were at risk if they remained with her. Her children have since been placed in Chabad-Lubavitch institutes/orphanages in St Petersburg at her request “for their own safety”.

The plight of the children, who are fluent in both English and Italian, has not even been acknowledged by the Russian authorities. It appears that the obligation of the state to ensure their safety and well being, and contact with their family and friends in Italy in the US, has been completely overlooked since they have been moved into a new jurisdiction, despite the fact that Italy, the US and Russia are all signatories to the Hague Convention.

Russian authorities have similarly done nothing to end the children’s isolation from family and friends, nor ensured they are safe from the risks identified in the Italian court proceedings.

Canada-Poland

In a parallel case two Canadian boys, Alexander and Christopher Watkins, were abducted by their Polish mother after her custody was revoked due to child-neglect. The boys were taken via the US and into Germany where the trail went cold. The Canadian authorities voiced serious concerns about the safety of the children and the ability of the mother to care for them, an Interpol red notice was issued and the mother was put on Canada’s most wanted list. When the children were finally located in Poland, the father immediately applied to have the boys returned home. At the December hearing in Poland the judge ruled that the children are now settled in Poland and should not be returned to Canada. This is despite the boys’ school in Poland independently suing the mother for child neglect. The appeal will be heard on 16 May 2012.

Leaving the children in the care of a demonstrably neglectful and potentially abusive parent is a clear breach of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Refusing to return the children to the custodial parent is a violation of the Hague Convention. That Poland as an EU member state is not being held accountable for the misapplication of these laws and agreements as well as blatantly ignoring Interpol red and yellow notices raises concerns for the quality of European law.

Although both cases have a non European element they both involve EU borders. The issues of cross-border problems arising from divorce or family problems should be tackled more effectively within the EU. While there is often talk of the unification of laws in the EU there is a clear lack of co-operation when it comes to family law. In a region in which members of EU states can move freely between and within numerous jurisdictions the legal tools must exist to deal with the resulting problems of this freedom of movement.

It’s not clear why the Hague Convention is largely ignored in many states, possibly it is perceived by the national judiciary as meddling from outside, maybe it’s just a sign of the general distrust of and reluctance to co-operate with another country’s legal systems, or it could just be plain nationalism: siding with the parent of the same nationality.

If the unification of laws in the corporate sector is moving ahead, why are the laws governing our private lives being left behind? The creation of networks such as Interpol, Europol and various UN initiatives have offered little assistance in addressing problems arising from transnational familial relationships, especially those involving children. While numerous national and international legal measures have been created to uphold the rights of the child, their application has been limited. The enforcement of existing laws and international agreements has not been enough to protect children from the dangers of international child abduction.

Immediate action is essential in cases of child abduction because of the age and vulnerability of the children compounded by the volatility of a parent who is putting their own child through the trauma of abduction. Yet both Poland and Russia have failed to act on these cases, posing a serious risk to the children involved. The person posing the greatest danger to an abducted child is the abductor.

Follow Natasha Kuilak Mellersh on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@tashalaws 

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Will missing kids be discussed when Polish PM comes to Ottawa?


Source: KJ Mullins from Newz4u.net .

On May 12 Polish Prime Minister, Mr. Donald Tusk will arrive in Canada for the first time. Families with missing children located in Poland are hoping that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will work on their behalf with Tusk while he’s in Ottawa.

Tusk will be in Canada to discuss with Prime Minister Harper the possibility of expanding trade with Poland.

Tusk’s arrival in Canada takes place the same day as the arrival of Canadian Stephen Watkins in Poland. Watkins will be in the Polish Hague Appeal Court, fighting for the return of his sons Alexander and Christopher.

Poland is one of the nations that have ignores international obligations when it comes to international parental child abductions. For two Toronto fathers caught in the battle of trying to bring their Canadian children home this refusal of Poland to carry through with Hague Court orders has been a costly nightmare.

Watkins has been well documented in his search for his sons Christopher and Alexander. In 2011 the boys’ mother was given limited parental rights by Polish Courts after she was reported by the children’s school. This took place prior to Canadian Authorities knowing of the “Watkins Missing Children” whereabouts.

Watkins was in Poland during December for the Polish Hague Convention Trial. It should have been a clear-cut case. Watkins had sole custody of the children prior to his ex-wife’s alleged abduction of them on March 8, 2009. Instead Polish courts ignored the International Hague Order.

Watkins will be arriving in Poland with two letters from Canadian officials already sent to Polish officials dealing with his case. The National Recognized Missing Children Organization of Poland, ITAKA, will also be addressing the court during his appeal trial.

Watkins said in an email of the situation, “The Polish Hague Convention Trial, which ended in December 15, 2011, refused to return my abducted Canadian sons, who were born in Canada and had never traveled to Poland before. I had been granted sole custody by the Ontario Courts after living with me full time since 2007 prior to their abduction by their non-custodial mother.”

Watkins is not alone. Grzegorz Nowacki, a Polish Canadian father from Toronto, is also trying to bring home his child, Aleksander Nowacki, from Poland since May 2011 when he was abducted to Poland by his wife. The Polish judicial system is treating this case as domestic case rather than a Hague Convention case and they are not honoring or respecting Ontario Court Orders. Mr. Nowacki applied for access visitation for his son in Poland during The Hague Court proceedings, but the Polish Judge rejected visitation which is in contravention of The Hague Convention Treaty. Mr. Nowacki also agrees that it is a struggle and injustice to get Poland to follow The Hague Convention Treaty.

Children caught in this battle deal with parental alienation, a form of child abuse. They are ripped out of the world they know and placed in situations that can be dangerous as the parent who abducted them tries to evade capture.

“Poland has a long proven history of being a non-compliant signatory of the Hague Convention Treaty and failing not only ordering the return children but also NOT enforcing the return of children all together. Is this a responsible Canadian decision by the Prime Minister of Canada to work with Poland knowing all this information in advance?,” asks Stephen Watkins, “If the Prime Minister of Canada won’t do anything… who will fight for the human rights for our Canadian citizens let alone for our Canadian Businesses?

Published by: ABP World Group International Child Recovery Services
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